Syria: Conflict, Civil War and Human Rights Violations


This article serves to highlight the background of the conflict in Syria and the issues of numerous human rights violations in Syria over the last 6 years.

Prior to the start of the conflict, Syria suffered from a number of social and political issues including but not limited to: high unemployment, widespread corruption, state repression and a lack of political freedom. This sets the scene for a politically and socially unstable country whose population remains oppressed by its leader. The origins of the conflict started in Deraa, Syria, where 15 young schoolchildren were arrested and allegedly tortured for having written anti-government graffiti, supposedly inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, on a wall. Peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations emerged following the detention of these young youths calling for more political freedom and democracy which was met with a violent response by the Syrian army, who opened fire on the protestors which resulted in four deaths. The following day, the army opened fire at those who attended victims’ funerals, killing one further person. The violent response of the army and their utilisation of deadly force was met with nationwide protests and unrest; as the unrest escalated there were widespread demands for the resignation of President Assad, whose presidency began in 2000. As the violence escalated, the country descended into conflict and civil war as armed rebel alliances were formed to battle the government forces for control of the cities, towns and more broadly the country. However, this conflict has not simply been an organised rebellion against Assad and the bureaucratic state, but has included a complex set of political and religious factions. The conflict has pitted factions such as the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect, whilst the Islamic State (IS) have also become involved, controlling sectors of northern and eastern Syria. President Assad, accused of violating a range of human rights, remains supported by President Putin and Russia (BBC, 2017). Jabhat Al-Nusra, also known as the Al-Nusra Front or the Al-Qaeda in Syria or in the Levant, is a Sunni Islamist terrorist organisation who have committed mass executions of captured Government soldiers. Other similar anti-Government armed groups are also known to have committed similar atrocities, amounting to war crimes of murder, cruel treatment and torture. ISIS, for instance, following unauthorised court verdicts, have subjected their detainees to abuses including torture and large-scale executions. These detainees have been frequently executed with death sentences as a result of unauthorised court verdicts (United Nations, 2016).

Since the initial unrest in the country in 2011, the Syrian civil war has developed to include a complex range of factions who each have different ideological and political interests; most recently, the U.S. has deployed troops into Syria by Trump to help address the situation (The Guardian, 2017).

To date, the violence in Syria continues on an unprecedented scale, claiming the lives of over 470,000 people (as of February, 2016) (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Since the start of the conflict, over half the population of Syria has been killed or displaced (Syrian Relief, 2017). Since the start of the nation’s civil war there have been several investigations launched into allegations of widespread abuse, torture and mass execution of the Syrian population. Throughout this civil war, the government has committed numerous crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, torture, enforced disappearance, all amounting as evidence of war crimes having been committed (United Nations, 2016). Detainees held at the hands of the state have been beaten to death or died due to injuries attained through state torture whilst others have died due to inhumane living conditions (United Nations, 2016).

These are the sorts of human rights violations which has created a dangerous climate for the residents of Syria and has contributed to the degradation of their way of life. In a recent Amnesty International lecture, an external speaker came in to give an account of his visit to Syria. He started by describing the scenes of destruction, followed by an account of a dialogue between himself and someone he met. The man he encountered had 9 children with him, half of them asleep in a garage. The speaker asked him if all of these children were his, to which he responded something along the lines of “No… These 4 are mine… The other 5 are my neighbours… Their parents are dead so I now look after them… But tell me, when I run out of food… Do I feed my children first? Or my neighbours children?”. These are some of the profound effects the Syrian war has had on civilians at the very personal level, and serve as issues brought about through mass poverty and death at the hands of a politically unstable nation.

This country has suffered from numerous large-scale atrocities and the routine violation of human rights. Most recently, the United Nations have advocated a political solution to the war, arguing at Geneva negotiations that Syrians should seek a political solution. Hopefully this article has highlighted a very brief history of the conflict and outlined some of the profound effects that this war has had on its population, describing the results of the conflict in terms of human rights violations and more generally the effect this has had on some of its population.



Photo credit: <a href=””>twiga_swala</a&gt; via <a href=”″></a&gt; / <a href=””&gt; CC BY-SA</a>


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